Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Slice of Life - Learning from Our Students

Slice of Life is sponsored on Tuesdays by Two Writing Teachers. For the month of March we are posting a slice each day on our blog. Join in! 

We have begun the Slice of Life Challenge in our classroom. This year I decided to create three levels for the challenge:

Level One – the “Slicers”
These kiddos are slicing every school day – either at school or at home for their ten minutes of writing.

Level Two – Piece of Cake
These kids are completing level one and slicing each school day, but also committing to slice over our spring break. The reward for going above and beyond during a time you might be lounging at the beach? A piece of cake upon your return. J

Level Three – Super Slicers
Behold, the holy grail of our challenge. These kids are joining me in slicing all thirty-one days in March – school days, weekends, spring break. The reward for this is top secret.

Last year I asked everyone to do level three. The majority of the class did, but the level of their writing was a bit lack luster and I wondered if that might be about buy-in.

This year I asked them to choose. If they really want to go for the gold, they can. Otherwise, I just want the month to be about growing as a writer. I’m already seeing a huge payoff.

Today was our first day of commenting. The kids came into our classroom at 8:10 and had twenty minutes to unpack, do lunch count, and prepare to switch. Usually we do a bit of word study at this time. For March, we’re stealing the time to comment.

The students entered today, lay out their notebooks, iPads, laptops, etc. at their spots – open to their slice. Armed with post-its and a class list, they moved around the room reading their classmate’s work and leaving a trail of post-it comments. The requirement is that you leave three comments a day and make it through our entire class list before giving a second comment to anyone. I don’t want friends to just leave comments for each other and then never move on.

After I entered attendance and lunch count, I began moving around the room too, stopping at a few spots to read and comment. The last notebook I paused at made me come to a complete stop, reread, say, “WOW,” reread again, and leave a note asking if I could photo copy his poem.

Joey's poem is also typed below.
This is the beauty of this simple unit, it allows writers to shine. There is no pressure in our class – write about your life, write about a poem that is inside you, waiting to burst free, just write. Joey wrote this. I typed it up for him and am sharing it with you here. I can’t wait to talk to him about this more tomorrow, I think he’s really on to something here. This poem is about reading, about empathy, about what he is learning this year. If you look, really look, our students are showing us what we’re teaching them. Joey made me cry today, but they were happy tears. I’m glad he’s listening.

                                           By: Joey                              

Everyday we walk,
On soil,
On water,
On grass,
Even in someone’s shoes.

In Bluebird we were
in the boy,
Harry Potter mind,
Percy Jackson life,
Even the ones who have a
Hard life in school –
 Gary Paulsen, for example.
No books,
But a writer.

Some can be real,
Abe Lincoln changed USA.
As a boy,
To a man,
To a hero.

I learned that,
You can go to anyone’s shoes,
Even if in a book.
Some books you can change,
Even one shoe.
True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp.

So each book,
Or not in books,
You can feel their shoes.

And if you can’t…
Then read.



  1. Michelle HaseltineMarch 5, 2014 at 5:30 AM

    I love the choice you gave the students for slicing this month. I think it's a great way to engage everyone, but to also give them choice. I have a question though...I'm wondering about the prizes for doing this. I wonder if a prize gives the students the wrong motivation. I think about reading. We don't want to reward them with pizza parties for reading, so I'm wondering about a prize of slice of cake for writing.

  2. First, I like the three tiers of slicers you created. It implies that everyone is going to do this and creates engagement. There are no non-writing option. Just fabulous!

    Second, Joey's poem is beautiful. I adore the way he wove the titles of books and characters and authors into his poem, "Shoes."

  3. Thanks, Stacey! I really like the choice this year. And I think Joey did a great job.

  4. Good question. I think I'm ok with the prizes here because I'm asking them to go above and beyond what I expect them to do and I've told them up front. Would I want to reward them for doing what I ask, no, but if I they want to dive deeper, I'm ok with that.

  5. Wow. Just wow! I think you have a poet to nurture!

  6. Love it! Hats off to Joey for his poem and to you for inspiring him! Nice job!

  7. I love the gamification of your slicing. This is my first year participating in the Slice of Life Challenge and my colleagues and I have had several conversations about awarding prizes. We have yet to work out the details but some of our ideas included different prizes for different levels. We thought about the "Super Slicers" being awarded with Moleskine journals to continue recording their writing ideas. We also thought about awarding virtual badges that can be uploaded to their blogs (We still have to talk to tech about this) and to celebrate a week of slicing we had Slice of Life stickers made to place on their laptop covers. I realize the real prize is writing but sometimes a little encouragement doesn't hurt. I LOVE the poem. It certainly showcases the love of reading and writing you have instilled in your classroom. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Anna Gratz CockerilleMarch 5, 2014 at 7:12 AM

    Hi Katherine- I love the tiers you created too. What a welcoming, encouraging way to invite kids to step up to the challenge and also meet them where they are. Do you mind if I share that with the community?
    Joeys poem - stunning.

  9. Katherine, Thank you for your classroom slice ideas. I asked everyone in my classes to do the 31 days, too, and now I'm wondering if I made a mistake. I like your levels. I'm going to keep that in mind for next time (or maybe a modification even now)! I also like your commenting idea on post it notes. That poem is amazing. He certainly HAS been listening!

  10. And after all, we're being enticed with prizes during the challenge, too. ;-)

  11. I did it for all 31 last year and it worked, but I wondered about choice - thus this year's arrangement. You could always ask your students what they thought. I love seeing what buy-in can do.

  12. Anna - share away!

  13. Love the idea of virtual badges. We've been talking about merit badges here for stuff like blogging, QR codes, etc. Would love to know more about what you are doing!

  14. The three tiers of writing during the challenge intrigues me. I haven't had students participate before, but this way is doable. I may have to rethink. And tell Joey his poem is wonderful. He needs to keep working in this genre!

  15. we just started our slice of life challenge, we're trying to do it every day in March if we were using your levels we would be trying to get threes. I really enjoyed your post and I liked your levels ideas that would make kids want to try hard and go for the best level.

  16. Some books you can change
    the story in,
    if you read between the lines
    and imagine
    what might have happened if this
    happened then
    or that happened
    or if instead of opening the cover,
    you read your own imagination
    for a few hours.

    - Kevin
    PS -- Tell that young poet I honored his poem by lifting a line and building my own poem around it.

  17. Love your tiers of engagement! I hope you will report back at the end of the month how it went (you are so good at reflecting on your practices).
    Joey's poem speaks volumes of what has been in his mind. What a wonderful discovery!

  18. I am just tearing up here for the joy of a poet born.

  19. Teachers for TeachersMarch 5, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    Love this poem!!! Please tell him I would love to share it with teachers and students in our work --with his permission! It has incredible layers of meaning and so many craft techniques for us to explore, notice and lift. Thank you

  20. I love these surprises! Yeah for writing! I did the levels of choice last year in two classes and it helped a great deal! Way more buy in from the students. Good luck with all the writing.

  21. Oh my, Katherine, even one shoe, and if not, read! So wonderful! I hope you will send this somewhere to be published, can't imagine it won't be loved!

  22. Forgot to say I like your idea of choice too, and you've said it's going well so far, will look forward to what happens by the end, too. Thanks for telling us all and for sharing Joey's Poem!

  23. Kathleen ArmstrongMarch 5, 2014 at 4:49 PM

    I started the school year with a month of Slice of Life. I didn't have the element of choice but next year I will. I always learn something great from you, Katherine.

  24. So smart to frame the levels, Katherine - it gives kids room to stretch and try. I love your line about reading into our kids' work to see what they are really learning - it's so important to do that, to validate the arc of learning in one's classroom, in big things and small.

  25. What an amazing poem! I hope to do this challenge with my students next year.

  26. Wow! Loved the student's poem. I thought it was a great idea to end with the poem, instead of beginning your piece with it. Isn't it cool that when we give kids a choice, they so often surprise us with what they choose to do!

  27. Thanks, Deb. I'm really enjoying the tiers.

  28. Great work, Logan! Keep writing.

  29. Kevin, your poem is beautiful. I shared it with Joey - thank you.

  30. Thanks, Elsie! I'm sure I will be reflecting back here.

  31. What a great description - a poet born. Yes!

  32. You have permission to share, Clare. He is very proud. :) Thanks!

  33. I hadn't thought about buy in last year - but truly it made a huge difference.

  34. Linda, what a good idea. I'll have to look into it. Thanks!

  35. Often I find my best learning comes from those small things we notice. Thanks, Tara.

  36. I highly encourage it. This is my second year with my class and I'm learning even more.

  37. Thanks, Kris. My students have been surprising me every day this week. :)

  38. Wowza! This is amazing and so insightful! I would have needed tissues. Thank you for sharing.

  39. I love this. I love the poem, of course - and I am so excited about these "levels." I didn't do the slice challenge with my kids this year, because their weekly slice has been met with less enthusiasm than I would have hoped... but these levels... that's awesome!

  40. Linda Milanese KerschnerMarch 7, 2014 at 10:56 AM

    Please tell Joey that his writing made me think, made me feel, and made me smile. I hope he knows how lucky he is to have a teacher who is willing to put time and effort into writing.

  41. What insight! It sounds like Joey is really developing as a reader and understanding exactly what reading allows us to do! Great job. I was completely impressed by his poem.


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